Naturally, people want to serve


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Naturally, people want to serve

Going away on holiday is an ideal time to experience service from traditional service providers: airlines, hotels, restaurants and retail operators. As a member of the Uplifting Service team, I recently traveled overseas on vacation, and was eager to experience the the service cultures and individual service providers I encountered. I thought it would be fun “field work” (much to the dismay of my family) and an opportunity to get fresh insights on service in new places.

What came of my experience, however, was much different than a collection of evaluations about service and service providers. Our airline, hotel, restaurant and retail experiences ranged from average to exceptional on any service scorecard. But my initial ideas about “field work” went out the window in exchange for a deeper awareness and appreciation for the innate sense of service so many people carry within.

We were four tourists from another country making our way on unfamiliar ground. There was the taxi driver who dropped us where we asked then picked us up again 5 minutes later at no charge to get us a mile further down the road when he saw we were in the wrong location. There was the man who crossed the street just to show me a free place to park only a block away, saving us an expensive parking fee. He even walked ahead to save a spot. There was the bike rider who stopped to help four lost souls surveying a map. He worked at the local tourist information center but took time out of his day off to guide us in a town he clearly felt pride in. And the owner of a house we rented who brought fresh breakfast the morning after our late night arrival, knowing we had not been able to shop for food the night before.

I also observed an older woman hugging the attendant at the airline counter after he helped her with a complicated change in travel arrangements. And two young men helping an older woman up off the airport floor after she had fallen, laden with bags, unable to move.

These were just a few of the small but meaningful gestures of service – all from strangers in a critical moment, taking action to help someone else. Clear evidence that so many of us carry a natural instinct – even a desire – to serve.

What occurs to me is that service initiatives that attempt to “train”, “script” or “program” employees to serve customers in a predictable and prefabricated way miss the opportunity to awaken and encourage our natural desires. Rather than create rigid structures and management controls that constrict workers, we need to get out of the way so our people can channel the human instinct to care for customers, and for each other. Let’s educate people to understand how uplifting service impacts the business and build a common language to articulate opportunities and issues. But let each person add their own human touch and find unique ways to delight colleagues and clients. Process and systems should allow for our trusted people to capture the critical moments that count for those we serve.

Categories: Service Culture
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10 Responses

  1. amy peterson says:

    Thanks for sharing this – what a great, new perspective on service!

  2. MeThinkingLoud says:

    Exactly what service culture needs – Natural human instint and a desire to serve!
    Exactly what service culture needs – Natural human instint and a desire to serve.
    Today’s organizations stress too much on scripts based service culture just because it is measurable and predictable. However, it is boring to the customers, suffocating to the employees and it even prevents innovation and creativity. Yes, you can’t improve what is not measurable, but you can’t forget what is not measurable may not necessary be negative value to the business.
    Can you measure love or kindness?
    Can you measure social responsibility or ethical value in business sense?
    And, can you really measure morale and loyalty?
    Statisticians might argue against these questions.
    But, let’s not forget another 80-20 rule. People make desicion 80% of the times to go by their heart, and only 20% of the times with their brain.

  3. nath says:

    just one question…where were you?

  4. Linda Williams says:

    This is so true, Ron. Often I’ve run into a customer service person who reluctantly answers my question for help with “I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to do that” or “Sorry, Company policy doesn’t allow exchanges”… or some such remark that actually causes discomfort to the kind person who has to say it! It has to do with empowerment as well.

  5. Vinay Kumar says:

    Beautifully said Jeff.

  6. Leandro Almeida says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Nice story. I do agree with you about the “natural instinct of serving”. I also like to call it “a genuine desire to serve”, an inner and natural ‘inclination’ to support others spontaneously.

    Some people have this stronger, others need more examples and a good environment follow such behavior. It of course depends on ‘free will’ and self determination, as well as on education, background, environment, situation, …

    Anyway, coming back to our ‘corporate environment’, what can a company do to foster such behavior? Some elements I guess are important:

    – genuine desire to serve, from top, middle and line management -> real and true EXAMPLE! (the so called ‘walk the talk’)

    – favorable environment -> company fosters, supports, recognizes and (adequately) rewards cooperation, creativity, innovation, +values, flexibility, entrepreneurship, risk taking, new ideas, …

    – commitment and action -> it doesn’t help to have too much of theory and good intentions, but less practice and execution, i.e., people get demotivated if the join new programs, initiatives, meetings, workshops, hear speeches and intentions, but do not have their emails or phone calls answered timely and adequately by colleagues and managers in the daily work.

    I don’t believe there’s a ‘perfect’ company, as well as there’s probably not a ‘totally wrong’ one. All of them are made of people. And this explains the lucky hits and the mistakes as well.

    But I believe that at least part of the success of companies like Google and many of these new ‘start-ups’, as well as traditional ones like Procter&Gamble and J&J have much of these ‘serving spirit’.

    By the way, talking about spirit, from the German language we have the expression ‘Zeitgeist’, meaning the ‘spirit of a time’ (in humankind history).

    Maybe we can describe the above thoughts as the ‘Geschäftgeist’, or ‘company spirit’.

    Hypothetical Interview:
    [R] What’s the ‘Geschäftgeist’ of your Company? (meaning, what’s the essence of your company?)
    [CEO] Oh, no simple answer, there are several positive ways to describe it… But I’d rather pick this up: ‘a place where people come every day to build up together new amazing things based on their dreams and ideas, and this can be made real mainly because S-E-R-V-I-N-G is written in our DNA’.

    Regards, Leandro

  7. Esther VM says:

    Love the way “ESSO” advertises their extra service with a sweet smile and the tagline, “At Esso, we are drivers too.”

    We customers love what you call, ‘natural human instinct’ and we love people who desire to serve because they are those who put themselves in others’ shoes. Spontaneous s-e-r-v-i-c-e is a noble adventure.

  8. David Mount says:


    What a great story and I’m jealous about the wonderful experiences traveling with your family.

  9. Dan Haygeman says:

    Thank you, Jeff, for this well written piece. The additional point you make by example without stating it explicitly has to do with expectation and attention. It was clear to me that on this trip you were WATCHING FOR SERVICE. Some was superb and some was not, as you pointed out. However, the effect of WATCHING FOR something, whether it is people driving Honda ‘Elements’ after my wife bought one, or me watching for Harley Davidson Heritage Softails after I sold mine turns out to be a transformation in ones own experience . . . I begin to see more and more of what I’m attuned to. Clearly, you saw and remembered many examples of great service that might have not even made it onto the radar of someone paying attention something else. Thanks to you, Jeff, I am

    Watching for Service,

    Dan H.

  10. sylvia says:


    I think you are enjoying service is also because you respond to service. The Buddhist call it Karma – action – reaction. when you ask nicely, you get nice ans. sometime, we also can’t get nice ans. when we ask nicely. But most time it works. I agreed that people do carry a natural instinct to serve. especially happy people. People in love are the most joyful people and they want to overflow some to others.

    From my experiences from travelling. In Germany. It was summer and the sun never goes down. We missed the rail and it was Friday. To a Singaporean, these are all new happening. At the station, only few people speak English. A tatooed man, one eye jack, looking like a very bad guy. came to help us. We followed him through some bad distist to a room above a Pub. the noise was loud downstair but we were so grateful to this one eye jack who offered help. In west Malaysia, Our car was struggling in a hole. The more we tried to get the car out the bigger is the hole. Cars passed us but no one stopped to help. Then a car loaded with big sized man and looking like bad man too. stepped out. They took a plunk of wood from their car and insert into the wheel. They told us to up the engine. we got out of our mess. they got all the mud onto the face and body. We offer money and no one take. They just smile and go away. In New Zealand, we were lost, and circle a road many times, then a tatooed man block infront of our car and ask why? We thought bad thing is going to happen to us. But he offered help and took his bike to lead us to our hotel.

    I just want to said, don’t judge the book by its cover. There are always nice people around us. Just don’t forget to be that nice person too.

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